CERTIFICATION FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON IN OHIO SECURITY INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
AXIS INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.
case involves an insurance coverage dispute between two
authorized foreign insurers, Ohio Security Insurance Company
and AXIS Insurance Company. Ohio Security tried to serve AXIS
at its office in Chicago, Illinois, rather than through the
Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner.
United States District Court for the Western District of
Washington certified a question to this court, asking whether
Washington law establishes service through the Washington
State Insurance Commissioner (Insurance Commissioner) as the
exclusive means of service for authorized foreign insurers in
Washington. The answer to the certified question is yes-RCW
4.28.080(7)(a) provides the exclusive means of service on
authorized foreign insurers.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Security and AXIS became involved in an insurance coverage
dispute after a snow storm caused structural damage to a
commercial building in Washington. Ohio Security's
insured, Grosso Enterprises Tacoma LLC, leased a building to
AXIS's insured, Reddy Ice Holdings. The roof of that
building collapsed during a 2012 snow storm, which prompted
Grosso and Reddy Ice to tender claims to their respective
insurers. Ohio Security alleges that it paid for Grosso's
loss and that AXIS has an equitable obligation to reimburse
Ohio Security for these expenses. Ohio Security sued AXIS in
Pierce County Superior Court, but failed to serve the
Insurance Commissioner as required by RCW 4.28.080(7)(a).
Instead, Ohio Security served AXIS at its Chicago office
pursuant to RCW 4.28.080(10) and Washington's long arm
statute, RCW 4.28.185.
Security served the Insurance Commissioner only after AXIS
filed a motion to dismiss for improper service. By this time,
the statute of limitations on Ohio Security's claim had
already expired. AXIS removed the lawsuit to federal court,
where both AXIS and Ohio Security filed summary judgment
motions. AXIS argued, in part, that Ohio Security's
equitable contribution claim was time barred because its
improper service failed to toll the statute of limitations.
The district court then certified the following question to
RCW 4.28.080(7)(a), RCW 48.02.200, and RCW 48.05.200
establish service through the Washington State Insurance
Commissioner as a uniform and exclusive means of service for
authorized foreign or alien insurers in Washington
State?" Order Certifying Question to Wash. State Supreme
Ct, Ohio Sec. Ins. Co. v. Axis Ins. Co., No.
C15-5698 BHS, at 2 (W.D. Wash. June 20, 2017).
legislature has the authority to designate an official as the
exclusive agent to receive service of process on behalf of
certain classes of defendants. Nitardy v. Snohomish
County, 105 Wn.2d 133, 135, 712 P.2d 296 (1986). When
the legislature has identified a specific person to receive
service, then service on anyone else "is
insufficient." Id. This case requires us to
sort out multiple statutes to determine who the legislature
has designated to receive service of a summons for actions
commenced against an authorized foreign insurance company and
whether it is exclusive. We answer this certified question of
statutory interpretation as a matter of law. Jin Zhu v.
N. Cent. Educ. Serv. Dist.-ESD 171, 189 Wn.2d
607, 613, 404 P.3d 504 (2017).
plain language of RCW 4.28.080 and RCW 48.05.200(1) designate
the Insurance Commissioner as the exclusive agent to receive
4.28.080 governs service of a summons. As with all cases
involving statutory interpretation, we consider the plain
language of the statute to determine the legislature's
intent. Dep't of Ecology v. Campbell & Gwinn,
LLC, 146 Wn.2d 1, 9-10, 43 P.3d 4 (2002). The statute
designates who should be served a summons based on the class
of defendants. In this case, the issue is whether the
statutory provision that governs service for actions against
"an authorized foreign or alien insurance company"
provides the exclusive means of service on defendant
AXIS, an authorized foreign insurer. RCW 4.28.080(7)(a). The
statute dictates that service of a summons on "an
authorized foreign or alien insurance company" is
"as provided in RCW 48.05.200." Id.
to RCW 48.05.200(1), it states:
Each authorized foreign or alien insurer must
appoint the commissioner as its attorney to receive service
of, and upon whom must be served, all legal process issued
against it in this state upon causes of action arising within
this state. Service upon the commissioner as attorney
constitutes service upon the insurer. Service of legal
process against the insurer can be had only by service upon
the commissioner, except actions upon ...